Tulip Harvesting: Tips & Recommendations

Methods for Harvesting Tulips in Annual and Perennial Plantings

I'm here in our tulip trial and I'm going to take a little bit of time and talk about harvesting tulips and some different ways to harvest them, depending on what your end use is.

Treating Tulips as an Annual

We treat tulips as an annual planting. We will only harvest from these bulbs one time in the spring. Part of that reason is that when when we are harvesting tulips for cut flowers, we take almost the entire plant. We actually will harvest all the way down to the bulb. In order to flower again, this bulb will need to photosynthesize and collect energy to produce a bloom in another season, but when we're harvesting for cut flowers, we are taking away all of its ability to photosynthesize.

We either harvest with the bulb on or you can leave the bulb in the ground when you harvest. Either way, there's really nothing left for the the bulb in order to to kind of regrow and produce another tulip bloom. That's why we treat them as an annual in our plantings. The reason that we do that actually is because of the extra stem length that we get by harvesting either with the bulb on or right to the bulb. Tulips, when we plant them, they sit 6 to 8 inches beneath the soil. And so that 6 to 8 inches from the bulb to the soil line is a really nice addition of stem length in the when it comes time to harvest.

An example of that is this variety right here. This is 'Sunset Tropical' you can see the way the plot is. It's not a very tall variety as it is blooming right now. However, because the there's another 4 to 6 inches of stem length below the soil, this makes it a variety that we can still use for a cut flower and by harvesting all of that stem length beneath the soil.

Just to illustrate the difference, so this is an example. This is a bunch of 'Sunset Tropical' that has been just at the soil line. This is how tall the this variety would be if we harvested right at the soil line, if we pulled the bulbs either with the bulb on or just pulled them out of the soil, we get an additional several inches of stem length that was just below the soil. Now this makes it a really different variety. It's much taller and much more marketable as a cut flower. And again, just to show the the comparison between these two varieties, same variety, this was harvested at the soil line. This is pulled out of the soil. And again, you can see how that you can see the the difference there.

How to Harvest Tulips

Now I'm going to show just a couple of different options for harvesting tulips.

Harvest By Hand

Leave the bulb in the ground and just pull. Most bulbs if they're planted deep enough and are firmly rooted in the soil, you're able to just grasp the stem where it meets the soil and pull and it will kind of snap out of the ground. And again, you'll get some additional stem like that. The white part of the stem is what was sitting below the soil. That's kind of a quick and easy way to harvest. Another consideration for harvesting tulips is that bulbs that are left in the ground can sometimes be a source of disease, or they may re-sprout even from that bulb. They won't produce a flower. You might just have little tulip leaves popping up in whatever bed you had them planted in in previous years. So it can be beneficial to remove the bulbs from the soil if you're able to. And also harvesting the plants with the bulb on also gives more options for storage if you are growing them for cut flowers, they can be harvested and stored in a cooler with the bulb on until you're ready to use them as well. So depending on your preference or your setup and your markets, you might want to harvest with the bulb on.

Using a digging fork

You just kind of want to gently lift the bulbs, hopefully getting close to the root zone and applying some pressure to start lifting them out of the soil. And once they loosen, then you should be able to just reach down and grab the bulb with a little bit of soil left at the base. So again, at this point, you could choose to either remove the bulbs and continue processing these, or you could store in a cooler with the bulbs on.

When to harvest

Another thing to think about when you're harvesting tulips is the harvest stage. If you are harvesting for a commercial market, whether it's a CSA or a farmer's market or a wholesale customer, ideally tulips should be harvested when they're just starting to crack color, and that will give the longest vase life for most varieties. If they're just starting to crack color, that's enough of a maturity for the variety to still continue to open and fully flower and again, you'll get the benefit of the longest possible life for your customer.

An example of that with this variety would be something like this bud here where it is just starting to color up. Here is an example of this variety with a more fully open flower. And this is definitely past the ideal harvest stage for commercial use. This is not going to have as long of life. However, if you are harvesting from your home garden or just for your own enjoyment for your kitchen table, you can definitely harvest at any stage that you like. Just know that as the more open the bloom is, the shorter its vase life is going to be. And you want to wait until the blooms are just starting to show at least a little bit of color on the bud before you start harvesting.

Tips for Perennializing Tulips

If you're growing bulbs for a home cutting garden or as part of a landscape planting that you want to perennialize, there're a couple of things that you can do to help ensure that those bulbs will perennialize and flower in another season.

Variety Selection for Perennializing

The first thing that you can do is with respect to variety selection, so choosing varieties like Darwin hybrids or something like 'Exotic Emperor', right here, these varieties are more likely to perennialize in a garden planting just in general.

Harvest Method to Support Successful Perennialization

There're two other things that you can do. First, if you would like to use a planting for cutting, what you can do is just instead of cutting all the way to the soil or pulling the bulb entirely out of the soil, you can cut and leave a few leaves at the base of the plant. That will allow the plant to continue to photosynthesize through the rest of the season. It'll be able to store up energy in the bulb and it'll increase the likelihood that it will flower in another year.

If you remove the entire stem, all the leaves, if you remove the bulb, then it, it won't have any energy left for the following for it to produce a bloom the following season. You can see even with leaving several inches of stem above the soil, this is still a nice long stem to put in a vase or make as part of an arrangement.

Remove Spent Blooms

The second thing that you can do to help perennialize a planting is if you are just leaving it to enjoy in the landscape, once the blooms have spent, you can go through and just remove all the blooms and you want to do that before they go to seed. If left on the plant the petals will fall off and a seed pod will form and the plant will put a lot of energy into producing that seed. What you want to do is just remove these flowers before the plant produces seed. Again, the plant wants to be putting that energy back into the bulb, and that will also increase the likelihood that you'll have flowers to enjoy in another season.

View all our Tulips…
Visit our Tulip Grower's Library …